Shakespeare in the morning

As long-time readers know, this year I set a goal to read through all the works of Shakespeare. Last year I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace at the rate of one chapter a day (361 chapters in total). I liked working through something major at a reasonable pace. So I decided to do the same thing for Shakespeare.

I’ve been following someone else’s reading project that they did in 2020, and I can say, almost halfway through, that it’s been very manageable. Each play gets 5-6 days or so, but there is a buffer in between each work, and the person who created the calendar left off major holidays in 2020, so there is even more space built in. So I normally read 3-4 pages a day in my book of Shakespeare’s complete works, but if I read a little less, it’s OK. I take at least a day to read a plot summary in between each work so I know what I’m getting into. If it’s inconvenient to read my large Shakespeare book (e.g. I’m traveling) I read that chunk online.

I have not always loved it. Like any working artist who needed to get the next thing out there, Shakespeare was not nailing it every single time. (I do enjoy the commentaries that claim any of the not good stuff must not be Shakespeare…I recognize that he collaborated with people but still…can’t we imagine that sometimes he just needed to crank something out?). It’s also interesting to see, as I read through everything, how he re-used plot points and the known crowd-pleasing stuff.

But it’s also really cool to read the great works, and read some of the lesser-read works too. I just finished and actually enjoyed Pericles (incidentally, one of the works that people think Shakespeare didn’t completely write) and I probably never would have read it without my goal to read some Shakespeare every morning and to read through everything. So I’m glad I made this resolution. Now I just need to figure out what next year’s project will be! Any ideas?

18 thoughts on “Shakespeare in the morning

  1. Trollope! I am a big fan of long-haul reading projects (did my own Shakespeare project in 2011) and I am finishing up the Palliser Chronicles this month. I probably prefer his Barsetshire Chronicles, but either one might be worth your time.

    You could also think about following the Hardcore Dickens Club’s timetable: (That is not the actual name of the club, but look at that schedule and tell me they’re not hardcore.) I love Dickens (focus of a different long-haul project as well as annual rereads), and even so I’m telling you: that’s a whole lot of Dickens.

    1. Seconding Trollope. Barsetshire chronicles for the win! (But I’m a 19th C lit Prof so I could be biased)

  2. Can you please share the resource for the schedule/ calendar you are using? Do you find you still have time to read other fiction as well?

    1. @Leneigh – it’s Ian Doescher’s project and the PDF of the 2020 schedule is here:

      As for reading other fiction…it’s complicated. I definitely have the time. The Shakespeare reading only takes 15 minutes per day. Probably 20 max if it’s thick. Last year’s War and Peace reading was almost never more than 10 minutes a day. BUT – it’s hard to get invested in something else that’s long and difficult. W&P was definitely the only multi-family huge saga I could tackle. So everything else I read was reasonably short. Same with Shakespeare – I’m still reading other stuff at other points of the day but I’m not going to tackle anything too difficult.

      So it’s a trade off, but I’m OK with the trade off. I think that Shakespeare and W&P are more worth having on my life list than a lot of less memorable stuff.

  3. Idea: novel from each decade going back to 1900 (maybe even focus on female authors?), or novels from 8 different genres including those not usually your thing (fantasy, romance, etc)?

  4. You have inspired me to do my own “long read” this year – though for me it’s not so much a read as a podcast. I am listening to the bible in a year since I had never actually read the Bible and I figured well I shouldn’t have opinions on something I haven’t actually read! I’m really finding it interesting. So thanks for the idea. I might do Shakespeare next year.

    I like pp’s idea of a book from each decade, or maybe a book from or about each country (some might have to be translations). If you are looking for a specific author I would highly recommend terry Pratchett. I suspect he has enough of a catalogue to last a year, and laughing out loud most mornings is probably going to be good for you!

  5. I’m doing Proust this year and would love to see your thoughts on it. I have to say, I want to be enjoying it more than I actually am.

  6. I am also doing the bible in a year podcast, and War and Peace chapter a day, it is interesting with the bible in a year it lines up with War and Peace so I am on day 159 for the bible in a year and I am on chapter 150 for war and peace but I am behind right now with War and Peace:-)!

  7. I’ve had a few longer books on my TBR list for quite awhile but am intimidated to start because of the length. This year-long-project idea might work for them! My list would include:
    -Les Miserables
    -The Count of Monte Cristo
    -Team of Rivals
    -Alexander Hamilton
    -Kristin Lavrensdatter
    -all of the Sherlock Holmes stories

    1. When I was 18 (in 1982!) I read The Count of Monte Cristo in a weekend. It was almost unputdownable as I recall. I got quite sunburnt reading it in the garden after my A levels were finished. Imagine having a whole weekend to do nothing but sit in the garden and read a long book in the sun!

  8. Trollope fans who haven’t already done so will enjoy reading Confessions of a Round-Heeled Woman, the memoir of a Trollope-reading retirement project coupled with (pun intended) another retirement goal of lots of great sex through personal ads in the NYRB.

    Also recommend Angela Thirkell’s 20th-century Barsetshire novels and Joanna Trollope’s novels.

  9. You inspired me to read War and Peace this year. I am not quite enjoying it, but since it takes so little time a day I haven’t stopped.
    I am thinking on reading The count of Monte Cristo next year.

    1. @Laura – so glad you’ve persevered in the project! At this point you’ve made it through the Battle of Austerlitz AND the Free Mason part, both episodes that derail many potential “through-hikers,” as it were, so I’m guessing that at this point you’re going to finish 🙂

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